A lot of people are hoping the 2020s will be a lighter, cheerier decade. No one told Poliça. Fourth album When We Stay Alive is a selection of moody, downcast poptronica, occasioned, we are told, by singer Channy Leaneagh’s enforced period of rumination after slipping from a roof and breaking her back. An atmosphere of drowsy, anaesthetised pain pervades. It won’t be soundtracking any parties.
The album sours its fundamental pop sensibilities with harder, darker electronic elements and is all the better when it does so. On Driving, a spooky out-of-sync electronic motif rubs up uncomfortably against Leaneagh’s vocals. On Fold Up, sputtering drum beats and bouncing sub-bass take us back to the 90s. Be Again eschews easy melody for a semi-spoken incantation, a restatement of independence, like a dream-pop version of Nina Simone’s I Got Life: “My head belongs to me / My eyes belong to me / My lips belong to me / My throat belongs to me.”
When the balance tips towards the pop end of the spectrum, though, it’s all a bit sheep in wolf’s clothing, a bit Ellie Goulding fronting Future Sound of London. Feel Life is a nondescript chart ballad only partially disguised by its electronic setting. Steady, with its “hey boy”s and “honey”s is also fairly tame. “Now we’re blowing bubbles and chasing birds / Singing so sweet and laughing into the world”. Ronan Keating called and wants his book of unused lyrics back.
Yet they can do big pop moments that are less anodyne. Forget Me Now builds powerfully and deliberately to a big chorus whose angelic backing vocals have a touch of ambient house about them.
The cold, clinical air is therefore punctured by reminders we’re in commercial territory. It’s a moody record, but not an edgy one.